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Practice One - Rosberg heads a Williams one-two 27 Mar 2009

Nico Rosberg (GER) Williams.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 1, Australian Grand Prix, Preparations, Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia, Thursday, 26 March 2009 Lewis Hamilton (GBR) McLaren MP4/24.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 1, Australian Grand Prix, Practice Day, Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia, Friday, 27 March 2009 Rubber gloves worn by Ferrari mechanics as they push back Kimi Raikkonen (FIN) Ferrari F2009 in the pits.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 1, Australian Grand Prix, Practice Day, Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia, Friday, 27 March 2009 Mark Webber (AUS) Red Bull Racing RB5.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 1, Australian Grand Prix, Practice Day, Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia, Friday, 27 March 2009 Nelson Piquet Jr. (BRA) Renault R29.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 1, Australian Grand Prix, Practice Day, Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia, Friday, 27 March 2009

For much of the first practice session of 2009, Kimi Raikkonen and Ferrari held sway, but right at the end it was like old times from the Nineties as Williams went one-two, courtesy of Nico Rosberg and Kazuki Nakajima.

Just after 12.30 local time the two Force Indias led the cars out of the pits, and this year’s FIA Formula One World Championship was officially underway.

Toro Rosso’s Sebastien Buemi was the first driver to record a time, 1m 36.659s, but soon Raikkonen was setting the pace for Ferrari with 1m 28.718s as the Swiss rookie worked down to 1m 32.788s.

It didn’t take long for problems to strike Red Bull, as Sebastian Vettel’s RB5 rolled to a halt in Turn 7 after 13 minutes.

Meanwhile, an interesting battle began as Brawn, McLaren, Williams, Toyota and Red Bull pushed closer to the Finn’s Ferrari. Heikki Kovalainen eventually nudged Raikkonen down with 1m 27.982s, and was in turn displaced by Rubens Barrichello on 1m 27.743s. Then Raikkonen struck back with a seemingly unassailable 1m 26.750s lap, which remained the best until a free-for-all developed in the final stages of the hour-and-a-half session. That was when Rosberg banged in 1m 26.687s and Nakajima jumped up to second with 1m 26.736s, just 0.049s adrift.

The Brawns were right up there in fourth (Rubens Barrichello, 1m 27.226s) and sixth (Jenson Button, 1m 27.467s) places, sandwiching Kovalainen’s McLaren (1m 27.453s).

Felipe Massa was seventh on 1m 27.642s, chased by Timo Glock on 1m 27.710s for Toyota and Adrian Sutil on 1m 27.993s for Force India.

The top 10 was rounded out by Fernando Alonso who took his Renault round in 1m 28.123s to head Nick Heidfeld (1m 28.137s), Jarno Trulli (1m 28.142s) and Robert Kubica (1m 28.511s). Then came Giancarlo Fisichella (1m 28.603s) and Buemi (1m 28.785s).

And Lewis Hamilton, the world champion? He was only 16th on 1m 29.042s ahead of Mark Webber (1m 29.081s), Nelson Piquet (1m 29.461s), and Sebastien Bourdais (1m 29.499s). Vettel, who only did four laps before his technical problem, believed to be hydraulic, was 20th on 1m 32.784s.

Both Ferrari drivers had minor off-course moments, Raikkonen in Turn 2, Massa in Turn 15, as they demonstrated that the new breed of cars is not all that forgiving. Hamilton had a couple of offs too, as did Barrichello, while Piquet spun in Turn 1.

The respective gaps between the Ferraris and the McLarens suggest that not all drivers were running the same strategies, and it is likely that we have yet to see the best from BMW Sauber and Toyota. As a season-opening session this threw up more questions than answers, which is just the way it should be.